What impact do disability services charities have on Irish society?

What impact do disability services charities have on Irish society? 

Our recent report examines the vision, mission and impact of seven disability services charities registered in Ireland and outlines how these charities are working towards achieving their stated missions. It identifies the key future challenges facing these charities and how the charities are innovating in the context of a dynamic environment.


All of the charities in the research sample are focused on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities and ensuring their full inclusion and integration as equal, independent and participative members of their communities and society, but they can be differentiated by the particular needs of the adults and children they work with, the geographic locations they operate in, by the work they do and the services they provide.



  • Enable Ireland provided services to over 5,206 children and 302 adults with disabilities
  • Inclusion Ireland dealt with more than 1,200 enquiries and made 10 reports to the government and public bodies
  • Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind trained a total of 222 people and placed 26 companion dogs with children and adults with disabilities
  • At the end of 2015 Irish Guide Dogs reported 450 working guide dogs and assistance dog partnerships
  • The Irish Wheelchair Association provided over 90,000 days of service to 1,954 people through their 57 resource and outreach centres and delivered 1.7 million hours of assisted living on a daily basis to 1,962 adults and children across Ireland
  • The Irish Wheelchair Association provided 8,000 bed nights through their holiday centres and facilitated a wide range of independent accessible holidays at destinations chosen by the individual
  • The National Council for the Blind provides a service to over 8,000 people every year
  • Rehab’s National Learning Network engaged with 7,338 people and over 1.6 million NLN e-learning resources were accessed on line
  • RehabCare supported 3,200 people each month with disabilities, people with mental health difficulties and older people to maximise their independence
  • Rehab Enterprises employed 184 people with disabilities out of a total workforce of 390



Would there be a void if any of these charities ceased to exist? In our opinion the evidence is that there would be a significant void if these charities no longer offered their services. It is important to note that many of these charities are facing increased demand for their services e.g. demand for Enable services has increased 42% over the past five years, with an ageing population NCBI say the number of people needing to access their services is increasing by 12% each year and the number of people availing of resource centre supports provided by Rehab increased by 12% in 2015.

It can also be concluded that there is a clear need for the advocacy and awareness work carried out by these charities to promote the rights, dignity, independence and equality of people with a disability in Ireland e.g. Inclusion Ireland is working with researches in the area of developing legislation for disability hate crimes; The Irish Deaf Society has been campaigning for more than thirty years to get Irish Sign Language recognised to ensure equality for deaf people in Irish Society; The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind are campaigning to reform public policies and legislation to ensure assistance dog owners enjoy the same entitlements and similar tax allowances as guide dog owners.



Disability services charities operating in Ireland face four key challenges

1. Uncertainty of funding:
Despite the fact that five of the seven charities (71%) in our research sample reported an increase in their total income when compared to 2014, building a stable financial base remains a key challenge for charities. The uncertainty of the economic climate impacts on the ability of individual donors to contribute to charities but also the likelihood of corporate donors being able to continue to support charities. Charities in receipt of state agency funding are also reliant on their continued financial support. This is against the backdrop of a change in the way the State engages with the third sector, i.e. the State is moving to a much more business like model of service commissioning, with defined quality standards and outputs required in return for contracted prices.

2. Fluctuating levels of public trust in charities:
Another key challenge for charities is ensuring public trust in charities and managing their reputations when scandals do arise. The appointment of a Charity Regulator, adopting the Governance Code for Community, Voluntary and Charitable organisations, adhering to the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising, the voluntary adoption of Charities SORP by many charities to enhance the transparency of their financial reports, are all examples of measures that charities have taken to reassure their donors and the public that they are trustworthy.

3. Availability of volunteers to match the needs of the charity:
Charities are dependent on volunteers. The ability to attract and retain volunteers is a further risk to charities and their capacity to deliver their stated missions.

4. Ability to cope with a complex, dynamic macro environment: 
Charities need to able to cope with changes in their macroeconomic environment across six key areas – political, economic, socio-cultural, technological, environmental and legal.



Disability services charities are innovating in a number of ways:

1. Organisation restructuring/maximising efficiency
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind are using Lean Six Sigma to become more effective and deliver services to more people without adding to costs. Rehab is simplifying its organisational structure moving from 25 subsidiaries, four joint ventures, an associate and a limited liability partnership to eighteen trading entities with the intention to reduce this further and also remodelled their senior management team.

2. Continual learning
The Irish Wheelchair Association carried out customer surveys and an employee survey to get feedback from both these groups and achieved the Q Mark accreditation for its assisted living service. Rehab conducted a national service user satisfaction survey.

3. Technology
Enable Ireland has rebuilt their website, invested in a new HR information system and is upgrading its centres and retail stores to Windows 7 and Office 2013. The Irish Wheelchair Association has invested in technology to replace paper records. Rehab has made investment in technology across the organisation a priority.

4. Branding.
Enable Ireland initiated a branding update process to increase brand awareness and expand their profile. Rehab will be looking at developing a new identity for the organisation unifying their division under one strong, recognisable and trusted brand.

5. New initiatives and service models 
Policy changes within the HSE, new standards required by the New Directions report, HIQA regulations, and the development of Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People have required adjustments in the health sector and charities have had to adapt to these transformations e.g. Enable Ireland developed an organisational benchmark against the New Directions standards.Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind are increasing the number of breeding stock in their breeding regeneration programme to continuously improve the quality of the dogs they breed and to work to ensure that more of them go on to become guide dogs and assistance dogs. Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind have also developed a new programme to recruit and train new volunteer dog boarders and are working on a newly designed assistance dog programme for families with children with autism.

Rehab piloted mental health programmes as part of the on-going development of mental health and recovery services provided by the National Learning Network. Rehab also piloted a programme for people in direct provision with mental health support needs.

6. Development of facilities
Enable Ireland have invested in the development of a centre and respite house in Cork, a new children’s centre in Bray, Co. Wicklow, and a new adult centre in Co. Limerick. The Irish Wheelchair Association opened new centres for resource and outreach services in Cork and Donegal and are investing in up-grading their bus fleet.


To read the full report click here. This report is the fourth in a series of eight reports on the impact of charities on Irish society.

John Sutton is Managing Director at Persuasion Republic. Persuasion Republic offers a full range of research and training, design, fundraising and advocacy services. For further information contact john@persuasionrepublic.ie or call John on 01 453 68 36